A guide to shopping mall etiquette during the year's most hectic and brutal shopping season

Holiday3As the holiday season approaches, shopping centres will no doubt be swarming with cutthroat shoppers on the prowl for the season's best sales. Feelings of fear may arise from the mass mall madness that ensues during the month of December.

A 2013 survey by Deloitte Canada estimates that approximately 80 per cent of Calgarians will do their holiday shopping in-stores. So more than any other time of the year, it is imperative that you are prepared to do your shopping in order to avoid exhaustion, overspending and last-minute stress. Listed below are some tips on how you can navigate through the vicious retail jungle and come out on top and on budget.

Tip1Make a budget, check it twice.

The key to a successful and guilt-free holiday shopping experience is to stay on budget. Before you even make the epic journey to the mall, be sure to create a budget to avoid overspending. The Bank of Montreal Financial Group says failing to budget for holiday shopping makes it easy to go off-budget and spend more than your credit card can handle. Revisiting the budget will help prevent impulse purchases and help you to quickly decide whether or not you can afford a particular gift.

BMO's 2013 Holiday Spending Outlook indicates that 36 per cent of Canadians plan on having a fixed budget this year, up from 29 per cent last year.

Make a list, check that twice too.

Create a list of absolutely every person you need to shop for, including your Secret Santa.
Don't forget to shop for non-family members such as friends, neighbours and coworkers who might unexpectedly give you a present.RedTags

Personal finance blog, Walletpop Canada, recommends buying the same general gift for different people. This will eliminate the need to patronize multiple stores, cutting down your time in hectic shopping centres as well as reducing stress over what gift to get whom.

Surf the world wide web.

Peruse through the great domain that is the Internet in order to generate specific gift ideas. Cruising through websites can help give you a more specific idea on what you're looking for and which particular stores will carry the kind of gift you seek. Uncertainty could just end up getting you lost in the retail wilderness. The goal is to be quick and be efficient at the mall. So don't be afraid to get a bit picky.

Browsing through the web and newsletters may also help give you a better idea on which stores have upcoming sales, helping to streamline your journey through the mall. While it may be extremely unpleasant to receive coupons and newsletters in your email inbox, it can be helpful during the holiday season when you're looking for a deal. If you don't want your inbox to become an unmanageable mess, make a separate email address for when you want to sign up for a mailing list.

Tip4Pick the right time.

For several reasons, the best time to go shopping is right when stores open; merchandise on display will be restocked, stores will be tidier and sales associates will be more eager to assist you. Going early means you can also avoid the battle for parking spots.

Nathan Noble, manager at Spareparts in Chinook Centre, says the mall's peak times are usually early afternoon on weekdays and of course, all day on weekends.

If you can't make it in the morning, do not insist on shopping 10 minutes before the stores close. Employees will most likely be cleaning up and will be wanting to go home. Don't mess with a sales associate after they just worked eight hours during the holiday season. They will be as enraged as a cornered rhino. Just don't do it.

James Moller, general manager at CrossIron Mills, says the busiest holiday shopping days are usually the Saturday before Christmas and Boxing Day. So unless it's completely necessary, avoid these days if you want to preserve your sanity.

Be a parking pro.

Holiday2James Moller, general manager at CrossIron Mills, says to remember to keep your cool. “It’s Christmas and everybody is trying to do the same thing you are. Have a little bit of patience,” he says.

Photo by Pauline Zulueta
While we are the province known for having lots of big, honkin' trucks, it's best to leave that colossal bus at home if you can. Try to take a compact car and you will probably a little more success snagging a parking spot. Parking will still be a pain in the you-know-what but having a smaller car will help you better maneuver around labyrinth-like parking lots.

Moller says you can call shopping centres in advance to ask which entrances are least busy and which parking lots are easier to get in and out of as well as which lots are best lit.

"Sometimes people try to get to the main door or their favourite parking spot. But at Christmas time one side could be busy while the other side of the mall could be completely empty," he says.

CrossIron Mills hires extra security guards and off-duty police officers around the holidays to handle the increase traffic at the mall's vast parking lots.

Security can also help you carry your purchases out to your car if you're going to have trouble managing those hefty shopping bags or if you've just made an expensive purchase.

Get comfortable.

If there's one thing we can all learn from Steve Jobs, it's that amazing things can be done in a comfortable pair of sneakers. So strap on your comfiest pair of footwear and get ready to dance through the crowd of confused and disorganized shoppers.

Ladies, try to avoid bringing an unwieldy purse full of unnecessary whatnots. Clean out your purse before your big shopping trip so you don't have to take items in and out of your purse every time you make a purchase. You can finish your transactions quickly by having your form of payment ready.

Most importantly, do not wear your bulky down-filled winter jacket at the mall. You will probably overheat and have to lug it around with you while you shop. Leave it at home or in the car as you might end up getting hooked on a shirt and taking down a whole aisle. Dress comfortably so you can tread lightly and easily around racks of full-priced jeans.

Tip7Go solo.

To get all your holiday shopping done as fast as possible, you'll have to go on the shopping expedition alone, says Canadian Living magazine. Toting kids along will make it more challenging to complete the already arduous task of holiday shopping. And shopping with a friend may not be much better. Going with a pal might mean making unnecessary stops at stores you don't need to visit. So stay focused and keep your eyes on the prize.

Stay fueled and rest when necessary.

Make sure you eat before you make the trek to the mall so you are up to the formidable task that is holiday shopping. Eating before shopping will also help you to avoid the food court. Are you sure you want to drag around those cumbersome shopping bags while you navigate through the convoluted maze of line-ups and tables at the food court? Pack a snack and bring a water bottle so you won't have to stop for food. But do stop when you need to take a breather.

Tip9Manage your shopping bags.

When you start to accumulate more and more shopping bags, try to combine and condense your shopping bags as much as you can. Not only is it absolutely irritating to every person you body check with your shopping bags, it's also a safety issue.

Remember your manners.

Holiday shopping demands an awful lot of patience and composure. It may be easy to succumb to frustration and let your temper flare.

Moller says, "When tempers get short and people don't know what's going on and they think someone budged in line, that's when incidents starts to happen."

And remember your manners, says Su-Chen Emma Callin, associate manager at Fossil in Chinook Centre. She says that she has often encountered rude and aggressive customers who demand special discounts and sales.

Callin adds that one should never haggle.

She says, "No haggling. Prices are as marked. It's an absolute no-no (to haggle). It's rude."

The writer works at a retail store in Calgary's Chinook Centre.

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